The life of Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia: private shopping, luxury hotels, mockery of Messi

Anyone assuming Cristiano Ronaldo will have all he wants in Saudi Arabia could rethink after what happened in the Super Cup semi-final on Thursday.

Ronaldo was mocked by fans chanting “Messi!” messi! Messi!” as Al Nassr lost 3-1 to Al Ittihad at the King Fahd International Stadium. It was his second complete game for the team – and his second game without a goal.

But in Al Nassr, it will only be an obstacle on the road; Ronaldo’s new club heralds his arrival as transformational. They see it as a signature that goes beyond the borders of the country’s football, one that puts them on the map of the world game.

The financial investment is certainly important. Ronaldo’s salary of around £175m ($217.4m) a year makes him the highest paid player on the planet. According to sources close to Al Nassr, who wish to remain anonymous in order to protect their positions, the club will pay a tenth of that salary, with the rest covered by the Saudi state.

“It’s an opportunity to rub shoulders with one of the best players in the history of football. This is a historic moment for our club, for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and for the whole region, ”says another club source, who for the same reasons wished to remain anonymous. The Saudi Football Federation declined to comment on the matter.

Since his signing was made official on December 30, no one at Al Nassr has complained about the 37-year-old Ronaldo, who seems to be fitting in well and trying to impress everyone at his new club. They highlight his professional attitude and his positive influence in the locker room.

But what can Ronaldo expect from his new football home? And will other famous players follow him soon?

Athleticism spoke to several Saudi gaming personalities to find out.

Training and life off the pitch

Old Espanyol Coach Vicente Moreno has been in charge of the Saudi team Al Shabab since his arrival in July. With his team third in the standings, the Spaniard looks back on his memories of arriving in a new football environment. What hit him first might not surprise you. It was the heat.

“I’m curious to see how Ronaldo adapts,” says Moreno. “He will have to train in the afternoon. In August, it is 50 degrees, so impossible to train in the morning.

“It may not seem like a big change, but if you’ve followed a particular workout routine all your life, it can be hard to adapt to it.”

Due to the high temperatures, Saudi clubs usually have no more than one training session per day. And that means coaching teams have less control over their players as a result, according to Sergio Piernas, who was Saudi Arabia Under-23 assistant coach in 2021.

“Training takes place in the afternoon, around 3 p.m. or even later in the warmer months – at something like 6 or 7 p.m.,” says Piernas.

“It affects the training dynamics, and there are also fewer options for further training.

“The clubs have improved their infrastructure and important decisions have been taken with the competitions, which are better organised. But the players lack this culture of effort, of development, of the realization that it’s not just about training and that’s it, that there is active rest, silent work , complementary training, food.

“And there are communication barriers – the players don’t speak English, which means the translator is very important, although it has improved.”

Signing Ronaldo aims to put Saudi football on the map (Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP) (Photo by Fayez NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

In terms of equipment, real Madrid used the Al Nassr training ground during the Spanish Supercopa held in Saudi Arabia, and they are of a high standard. Ronaldo was present for some of Madrid’s sessions there and took the opportunity to reunite with former teammates.

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Rejection, revenge and soft power: behind the scenes of Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia

Off the pitch, Moreno says Ronaldo will likely live in one of Riyadh’s gated communities, which are home to many foreigners.

“Some areas like mini-cities are closed off with barriers and security devices,” says Moreno. “It’s where a lot of foreigners live and they lead a more western lifestyle.

“Riyadh is very big. Here, the concept of city is different from what we see in Europe, in terms of streets, distances, space. It is a city that is about three times the size of Madrid.

Before the matches, the players of Al Nassr meet in a five-star hotel in the diplomatic quarter of the city. For the first few weeks since his arrival, Ronaldo has been staying in a luxury hotel, but the club plans to provide him with a big new home. On a recent trip, a mall in Riyadh was closed so he could visit it exclusively.

Piernas adds: “Here, with the impact Cristiano has had, he’s going to have to live in a bubble.”

And the matches? “The level is better than you think”

Al Nassr will most often use Ronaldo as their only central striker. His new side are the league leaders with 33 points after 14 games, one point clear of rivals Al Hilal by one game less. Their objective for the season is to win the title.

As Athleticism reported earlier this month, a ranked sports intelligence agency Al Nassr on par with Luton Town and Sunderland in the championship, while the Saudi Pro League was ranked as the 58th best quality in the world – with an average standard between League 1 and league two In England.

But Moreno says: “The level is better than is often thought. Cristiano talked about it in his presentation, that in the world Cup you could see it; Saudi Arabia were the only team to beat the eventual winners Argentina.

“They didn’t manage to come out of the group stage, but I think they played very well in all the games and showed what they can do. The level is good.”

The two biggest clubs in Saudi Arabia are Al Nassr and Al Hilal, which are “like Real Madrid and BarcelonaPiernas says. Between them, the two teams accounted for 18 of the 26 Saudi players at the World Cup.

He added: “Both clubs are in Riyadh, and Al Hilal had a slightly higher profile as they contributed more to the national team and won the last Asian Champions League, so they are also going to the FIFA Cup. club world.Al Nassr is their main competitor.

The Al Nassr ground holds around 25,000 people, with recent attendances nearing capacity. Tickets usually cost between £15 and £40. Far fewer female fans attend matches than in Europe – indeed, they were banned until 2018.

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Rejection, revenge and soft power: behind the scenes of Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia

Will Al Nassr sign more great players? “They have money, but they are not fooled”

In recent weeks, many players have been linked with Ronaldo’s new team. This long list includes the Real Madrid striker Eden Hazardwho received an Al Nassr shirt from team coach Rudi Garcia in Riyadh for the Spanish Supercopa.

The gesture was interpreted as a way to approach the 32-year-old but, in fact, there is another explanation. Garcia has known Hazard since his early days at Lille, where they worked together for four years. There are no plans to sign him and Hazard isn’t looking for a move either.

Some fans were quick to conclude that Al Nassr will be looking to create a ‘super-team’ around Ronaldo. According to club sources, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their positions, this is unlikely.

One such source put it this way: “Cristiano has been exceptional, but they’re not going to set up the Harlem Globetrotters now. His mission is to develop the club. They have money, but they are not fooled.

Piernas believes that the country’s leaders “supported the signing of Ronaldo” as part of their “very strong bond” with football, which they want to develop in order “to have greater visibility in the world”. He says that in Saudi Arabia, such support is considered “normal”.

Ronaldo’s debut at Al Nassr came against a familiar old foe (Photo by Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images)

Critics of Saudi Arabia would say signing Ronaldo is just another example of the kingdom’s sportswashing – using stars and major sporting events to distract from their poor human rights record. the man.

Amnesty International released a statement via its Middle East researcher when Ronaldo’s transfer to Al Nassr was announced earlier this month. He pointed to Saudi Arabia killing 81 people in a single day last year and drew attention to the state’s crackdown on free speech, while urging Ronaldo to speak out about the issues of human rights in the country.

The signing of Ronaldo has certainly already attracted a lot of attention.

His league debut came in a 1-0 home win against Ettifaq on January 22, but it was on January 19 that he first appeared in the colors of his new club, playing in a friendly with Paris Saint-Germain in which he faced Lionel Messi.

Interest in this game was huge. Al Nassr has also seen a significant increase in his social media following: 12 million followers on Instagram, 4.5 million on Twitter and 600,000 on TikTok, according to data provided by the club.

And – in official matches at least – he hasn’t even found the net yet.

Other author: Pol Ballús

(Top photo: Mohammed Saad/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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